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What’s the Difference Between Web Development and Software Development?

Difference between Software Development and Web Development

A few years ago, it would have been fairly simple to describe the difference between web development and software development. It used to be that the term web development was simply used for what we traditionally think of as websites, whereas software development referred to building desktop applications.

However, as more and more—and at this point, most—software applications are built to be used on the web, the lines between web development and software development have blurred.

The average user doesn’t think about whether what they’re using in their browser is considered software or a website. But as developers, we do think about it.

What is Web Development?

Standard websites focus on content delivery. It follows then that standard web development is building what you probably think of when you think about a company’s website. Like you may be reading this on our website—which we designed and developed—right now.

Our website uses a content management system (CMS) to, well, manage content. It’s built using HTML and CSS and features simple functionality: content pages, a blog, a case studies section, and several forms.

Most company websites, like ours, are a good example of web development.

Software development, on the other hand, tends to be more complex.

What is Software Development?

While a lot of software systems are web-based, we still consider more complicated systems to be software. Subscription platforms you use on the web every day—think Netflix, Dropbox, and Google Apps—are referred to by the acronym SaaS, which stands for software as a service. Even though these are web applications, the world at large still refers to them as software.

For us, a big differentiator is that software development is focused more on the backend, which just refers to the part of the software you can’t actually see. It’s the part that talks to the database, does calculations, and applies rules and logic in response to a user’s action. Of course, we still work to optimize what you see on the frontend through the application’s design and usability. A lot of our work, though, centers around building the right functionality, setting up an optimal system architecture, and making sure the system performs well and meets the clients’ goals.

Our software development stack expands well beyond just HTML and CSS, the typical web development tools. We use development platforms like Microsoft .NET, programming languages like C# and JavaScript, and other frameworks as they make sense within a system.

Because we specialize in building customized enterprise systems, we call everything we build software. Most of it is browser- or mobile-based, but it’s still software to us.

Blurred Lines

As you can see, there isn’t a clear distinction between web applications and software applications these days. So much of our world is browser-based, which puts it into the web development category. As software developers, we’ve adapted to building mostly web-based platforms, but we still consider what we do software development.

How About an Example?

One example of the cross section of web and software development is a complex e-commerce platform. Is it a website or software?

The end users see a website. They access it in their web browsers and can view content, look at products, and complete transactions. But as developers, we see everything that has to happen on the backend, behind the scenes, to make that e-commerce site work. 

Sure, some e-commerce sites are simple—a few products, simple variants, and nothing fancy. But the ones we work on are much more complex—a lot of data, complicated variants, and custom integrations with other systems.

Does It Really Matter?

One way to describe what we do is “web-based software development” because web development and software development are now essentially inseparable. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what we call it. What matters is that we effectively solve problems using the right tools for the job at hand.

Building an Application?

Here are 11 things to think about as you dive in.

Do you have a web development, software development, web-based software development—or however else you may refer to it—project in mind? Reach out.